Fiction… Wisdom for Living

Benefits of Reading Fiction

Research shows that regularly reading fiction brings tremendous benefit. Those include…

  • Improved vocabulary
  • Reduced loneliness
  • Better understanding of self
  • Learning factual information
  • Increased brain activity
  • Slower memory decline
  • Increased empathy
  • Better listening skills
  • Increased focus & concentration
  • Improved communication skills

If those benefits aren’t enough to convince someone about the power of reading fiction, there’s more. And this more connects with our faith walk as Christians in an interesting way.

Wisdom for Living

“The best stories and novels contain wisdom for living that cannot be captured in any other way.” (Why Read Fiction?)

Fiction helps us see human nature in ways we sometimes fail to through history, nonfiction reading and even through our own observations and experiences. Maybe that’s because fiction helps us see truth from a safe distance. Or, maybe it’s because fiction isn’t really 100% made up anyway.

Look closely, and you’ll realize that the best stories are based on layers of reality within made up elements. For example…

Good fiction helps us view the complex layers of human nature in ways that benefit us psychologically and socially. Some of those benefits are obvious and applicable to all, and some are individualized. And some are so painful that we’ll only hear them through the lens of the fictitious.

Fiction in Scripture

Consider that Jesus made up stories — fiction — for these very reasons.

In telling these stories, Jesus got at some tough cultural and socially taboo issues. He addressed what might not have been otherwise received by direct teaching.

What are the issues and lessons in the stories Jesus used? Let me encourage you to investigate those familiar stories once again to find out. Only this time, push yourself to go a bit deeper. To help you get started, check out how GotQuestions.org discussed each of these stories.

Not Just for Entertainment

I love to read fiction, and much of my motivation is purely for entertainment and relaxation. At the same time, I’m mostly drawn to stories with depth because of the benefits they bring to my personal growth.

When I realized that Jesus used stories with layered meaning and understanding as a tool in much the same way that happens in the books I most like to read, my appreciation of and draw toward good fiction only grew.

I encourage you to find good fiction that stimulates you in ways beyond entertainment and relaxation. In addition to the books listed above, here are some of my other very favorite works of fiction to help you get started.

Social Connection… Not Easy But Best

Because introversion is a dominant part of my personality, I used to believe I did not need much social interaction. In fact, I once bragged I could go days without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family.

Gradually, I realized that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. What changed my mind? Three insights.

Introverted ≠ Anti-Social

After reading a lot about introverted personalities, and helping others learn How to Interact with an Introvert, I realized there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. Unfortunately, I had bought into many of those misconceptions and turned them into excuses for living fully in my introversion.

First, just because so much is happening inside an introvert, as opposed to extraverts whose activity is much more visible, does not mean introverts don’t need to interact externally too. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one or small group social interaction instead of large groups, but they do need interaction.

Also, the interaction introverts do have, and it is usually less than extraverts, tends to involve less small talk and to instead focus on more in-depth interactions. And after any social interaction, introverts need to recharge with alone time. That’s where we get our energy. Extraverts seem energized by the interaction itself.

Being alone is much easier for me than engaging in social interaction. But as my kids would tell me if they heard me say that, “Easier isn’t always better.”

In fact, most people are some combination of extravert and introvert, known as ambivert. This means that the vast majority of us need some level of alone time and some level of social interaction. It’s just different for everyone.

I finally realized I was taking the easier route, and it wasn’t better. I was often lonely, and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life.

Social Interaction = Healthier Aging

The second insight came inadvertently. In an attempt to put more variety into my reading selections, I subscribe to a few different RSS feeds. One article sent me on an unexpected quest.

Let the “Black Mirror” References Fly: Britain Has a Ministry for Loneliness

The article initially caught my attention because I wondered what “Black Mirror” was. (In the article, Black Mirror refers to a show on Netflix.) I finished the article and forgot about this reference, instead focusing on how a country’s government would allocate funding toward making sure people are less lonely.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, or carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts or experiences with.” (British Prime Minister Theresa May)

The brief article also provided these, to me, startling research findings:

  • Approximately 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.
  • People with social connection have 50% lower risk of dying early.
  • Studies suggest that isolation and living alone impact a person’s risk for early death.
  • Loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Additional research on my part showed these findings are accurate. The Brits were on to something, and I wanted in. After all, one of my life goals is to age gracefully, and now I saw that a healthy social life was a major key for that to happen.

God Encourages Fellowship

Even in my regular Bible studies over the years, I somehow managed to neglect the importance God places on fellowship. By no means does that mean a lack of awareness on my part. I knew what Scripture said about fellowship, but I foolishly thought that my minimal interactions fulfilled what God wanted.

The Holy Spirit used the above insights about introversion and loneliness combined with reintroducing me to what God’s Word says about fellowship to redirect the social focus of my life.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There are many additional Scripture advocating for the connection we are to have to one another as Christians and to the benefits gained from that fellowship. So, really no surprise to find out that we are physically tied to the benefits of connection with others too.

What finalized the need to shore up my social life is how I finally really saw Jesus’ own interactons during his 3-year ministry.

  • Jesus took time to be alone while also making time with others a priority.
  • He never showed annoyance at those wanting his attention as he was walking from one place to another or as he was speaking to crowds.
  • He spent a great deal of time with his small group, his disciples.

Jesus’ examples combined with the many other references to fellowship in Scripture make me simply unable to deny the importance of social interaction for my own life any longer.

Be More Social!

Likely, I’ll always struggle with social interaction to some extent. Yet, I feel I will struggle less so now that I understand how intertwined it is with our physical and spiritual health.

One of my current goals is to “Be more social!” I realize this goal is much less than what experts recommend for goal setting. It’s not specific or measurable. Yet, I’ve still made progress with it. That progress comes because of the motivation, the “Why?” that pushes me onward.

Ultimately, the “Why?” is to finally live in obedience in this area of my life. It also involves knowing that God encourages social interaction because He knows it makes this race of life better for everyone, much like running with a friend increases our endurance. Having research back up the benefits of social interaction is akin to God putting an exclamation point on my goal.

Social interaction is not easy for me. But, it is important, crucial actually. So, I push toward this goal every day, letting my “Why?” lead me ever on to the best way over the easy one.

Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

depression-1

Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

depression-2

Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

depresison-3

Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

Voting My Conscience

ballot-1440045-1599x1068For the past 26 years, my voting choices revolved mostly around what the two main parties offered. My husband and I did venture outside of those one presidential election, but we ended up feeling like our votes were completely wasted.

Research for my voting choices has up to this point involved listening to a few individuals I respect and knew did their research along with reading one or two seemingly objective sources that placed the candidates side by side.

My point is that while I voted my conscience all those years, I didn’t really base it on much information. I’m not proud of that, by the way.

Honestly, I’ve never felt inclined to do much more than I did. Until now.

For months now, I’ve believed my choice involved horrible or not quite as horrible. Two choices. That’s it. Turns out, there are other choices. Actually, the choices are boundless when you consider write-in votes.

ballot-box-1519379-1599x1068I still don’t know who will get my vote for president in a few weeks, though I do know one for sure who will not. However, I do feel as though I’m not forced into voting just to keep someone else out of office.

Never before have I posted anything political on this blog, but I am bothered by this election like none before it. With that, I offer some information I’ve found quite helpful, and it comes from a blogging friend of mine.

The full post is reprinted below, but I encourage you to also visit Wisdom of a Fool and leave a comment there. Also, there are several links within the post I encourage you to visit. If you aren’t yet, won’t you join me in becoming an informed voter?

Who are McMullin, Stein, and Johnson: and what could they mean to you?

If you’re like many American’s today you value your right to vote but feel trapped between a rock and a hard place—you don’t like either of the primary political party candidates.

And if you’re like many others (on both sides), you might be tempted to simply vote for your affiliated party even if you don’t like that candidate simply because you REALLY don’t like the opposition.

But what if you had another option?

What if a third party candidate better represented your beliefs?

Now, you might be thinking that’s a wasted vote (after all, that’s what the media is trying to make you believe).

History (and our constitution) disagree.

4 Times in American History neither candidate reached the needed 270 electoral votes to become president. If you’d like information on that please click here.

So what happens if neither candidate reaches the needed 270 electoral votes?

The National Achieves and Records Administration: US Electoral College says:

“If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.”

Here are 3 other options:

Evan McMullin– Is a constitutional conservative. For 10 years he worked for the CIA spearheading counterterrorism in places such as the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. Later he used his Master’s in Business to help industries such as energy, biotech, technology and more.

Here are a few of the issues he is focused on.

  1. Military- “…we will rebuild the military and give our service members the tools they need to defend our freedoms and our way of life—while also protecting Americans’ hard-earned dollars.”
  2. Economy-“…make the tax code fairer and simpler, helping to spur business innovation, especially the growth of small businesses… Small businesses should pay closer to 25 percent of their profits in taxes, whereas now there are many that must pay almost 40 percent. Right now America also has the highest corporate tax rate – 35 percent – of any advanced economy.”
  3. Healthcare– “…repeal Obamacare as soon as possible, replacing it with a more streamlined, pro-market approach to insurance…encourage competition and innovation by putting patients, families, and doctors for first.”
  4. Government Accountability– “…support House Joint Resolution 100, a proposed constitutional amendment for the re-empowerment of the states. This amendment would enable a two-thirds majority of the states to repeal any Executive Order, regulation, or administrative ruling issued by the executive branch.”
  5. Immigration– “The path to reform begins with securing our borders. Once they are secured, there should be a process of earned legalization for the illegal immigrants who are already here. There is simply no efficient way to deport 11 million individuals; doing so would break apart families and likely cost $100 billion. Furthermore, legalization is not amnesty.”
  6. Trade- “…supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement recently signed by 12 countries, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. The TPP will eliminate tariffs for all the countries that sign, but it will not go into effect until ratified by Congress.” SIDE NOTE-This is NAFTA on steroids. While there are many benefits of NAFTA, the disadvantage of it includes “…destroying half a million American jobs and lowering U.S. wages. In addition, NAFTA increases the S. trade deficit.”To learn more about NAFTA (pros and cons) click here.
  7. National Debt– “…enact reforms that make these essential programs more efficient while fighting pervasive fraud and abuse…simple truth that you can’t keep spending money you never had.”

To learn more about McMullins Platform click here.

Dr. Jill Stein– 2012 Green Party candidate for president. Wants to revitalize democracy. She’s a mother, physician, and an environmental-health advocate.

Snapshot of her platform:

  1. Jobs as a Right– “…replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.”
  2. Health Care as a Right– “Establish an improved “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings.”
  3. Education as a Right– “…Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.”
  4. A Just Economy– “Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage. Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve. Reject gentrification as a model of economic development. Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses. Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Create democratically run public banks and utilities. Replace corporate trade agreements with fair trade agreements.”
  5. Protect Mother Earth– “Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines. Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe. Protect the rights of future generations.”
  6. Freedom and Equality– “Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands, and create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants. Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.”
  7. Peace and Human Rights– “…End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases…”

To learn more about Stein click here.

Gary Johnson– Libertarian Candidate. Two term Republican Governor of New Mexico. A business owner who describes himself as “fiscally-conservative and socially-liberal.”

Here are a few of his beliefs:

  1. Taxes– “…elimination of special interest tax loopholes, to get rid of the double-taxation on small businesses, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that determines your tax burden by how much you spend, not how much you earn.”
  2. Civil Liberties– Supports Same Sex Marriage and Abortion Rights
  3. Immigration– “we should focus on creating a more efficient system of providing work visas, conducting background checks, and incentivizing non-citizens to pay their taxes, obtain proof of employment, and otherwise assimilate with our diverse society .Making it simpler and more efficient to enter the United States legally will provide greater security than a wall by allowing law enforcement to focus on those who threaten our country, not those who want to be a part of it.”
  4. Environment– Believes in Climate Change. “…believe that the federal government should prevent future harm by focusing on regulations that protect us from real harm, rather than needlessly costing American jobs and freedom in order to pursue a political agenda.”
  5. Education– “…believes that state and local governments should have more control over education policy. Decisions that affect our children should be made closer to home, not by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C. That is why he believes we should eliminate the federal Department of Education. Common Core and other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools are costly, overly bureaucratic, and actually compromise our ability to provide our children with a good education.”
  6. War on Drugs-“…remove cannabis (Marijuana) from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act, which will allow individual states to make their own decisions about both recreational and medical marijuana — just as they have done for decades with alcohol…do not support the legalization of other recreational drugs that are currently illegal. It is, however, their belief that drug rehabilitation and harm-reduction programs result in a more productive society than incarceration and arrests for drug use.”
  7. Wasteful Spending– “…pledged that his first major act as President will be to submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending in line with revenues, without tax increases. No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction. And he pledges to veto any legislation that will result in deficit spending, forcing Congress to override his veto in order to spend money we don’t have.”

To learn more about Johnson’s platform click here.

While no candidate is perfect, perhaps one of these lesser known candidates better represent your beliefs and concerns. If so, I encourage you to not buy into the lie that you must vote for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. But if you like them, vote for them. It’s your choice.

You are given one vote and are free to vote however you choose.
And your vote matters.

Michelle Obama recently gave a powerful speech that highlighted how important each vote is. In 2012 Barack Obama won the election by a small number of votes in certain states. Hilary Clinton recently showed a few maps of just how powerful each vote is.

Examples: If 13 people would have stayed home in Florida Obama wouldn’t have won that state. Likewise he won Ohio by 19 votes, Wisconsin by 34 votes. Breaking it down by precinct – If 7 Obama Voters in each precinct had chosen to vote for Romney in the state of Florida, Obama would have lost that state.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS- To see more click here.

If you do like one of these candidates and they are not on your state’s ballet you can WRITE IN YOUR VOTE. So just because you don’t see your preferred candidate on the ballet doesn’t mean he/she is not an option. It means you must WRITE in the name you want to vote for.

I encourage you- Vote your Conscience. 

SIDE NOTE- McMullin has a real shot at winning Utah. For more click here or here.

He Knows My Name

Name

As a writer, I have thought a lot about becoming well known. My name on the cover of a book. My book on The New York Times Bestsellers list. But my writer dreams don’t end there. I’ve thought about someone famous discovering my blog and asking me to ghostwrite for them or maybe co-write with them. I have even thought about being asked to do inspirational and motivational speaking. All pretty crazy ideas, I know.

In my reality, I know people who always seem to know other people no matter where they go. The coffee shop. The mall. Restaurants. We’re regularly interrupted. People know and use their name. I feel like a third wheel, or at least what I imagine a third wheel feels like, for however long they talk, most of the time not included in the conversation. I’ve just never been someone who has been known. (Except for in college when I had a byline in the campus newspaper every week. I enjoyed that probably too much.)

Much of my life, I’ve struggled with feeling overlooked and unimportant. Not just because people often don’t know my name but also because my introverted, shy personality keeps me backstage most of the time. (Don’t think because I’ve taught college classes and Bible studies that this changes anything. I’m pretty good at hiding behind my topic.) Ultimately, that’s where I like to be. Yet, a part of me has always wanted to be noticed, to be known, by others.

As I have taken this need to the Lord over the years, I have an increasing awareness of my messed up motives for wanting to be noticed. The Holy Spirit isn’t brutal about it, but He helps me realize that recognition by others won’t satisfy, not for very long anyway. Only God can satisfy my need for significance and notice.

He Knows My Name” by Francesca Battistelli (If We’re Honest album) speaks well to my need and to His satisfying of it.

I don’t need my name in lights.
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes.
Make no mistake.
He knows my name.

After years of struggling with this, my desire to be known on this earth no longer matters much most of the time. If it’s not His desire, then it’s not my desire either. If He ever decides for others to know me on a larger scale than my quiet, small-town life, then He’ll make that happen and at the same time give me the desire for it.

How did I find victory over this particular issue? His presence.

When He’s my center, my focus, worldly fame and notice fall off the radar. When His agenda replaces my agenda, my soul experiences overwhelm with Him, and my schedule no longer looms overwhelmed and overloaded.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

My name on a book or in lights or even called across a coffee shop… none of those really take up my mental energy anymore. What does? How to have more of His presence. Nothing else matters except that He knows my name.

Struggling With Patience

PatienceYears ago, I thought I had a patience problem. I needed more of it. So, I worked to be more patient. Unfortunately, trying to be more patient didn’t work all that well.

I then decided I instead had an anger problem. If I simply prevented anger, patience would increase. You know, walk away before anger gets out of control. Avoid trying situations that erode patience and promote frustration and anger. That didn’t work either.

My efforts toward increased patience and decreased anger weren’t a complete loss, though. I sometimes managed patience if I wasn’t hungry, tired or thirsty and if everything else was basically going my way and if it wasn’t too big of a deal and if the other person was obviously just being difficult, and if…

Honestly, consistency consistently eluded me with regard to patience.

At some point, I finally realized my struggles with patience stemmed from control issues — I wanted to control people and situations… yes, all of them. I lost my patience and replaced it with anger and frustration when that didn’t happen, which was most of the time.

Understanding Patience

We most often associate patience with putting up with another person, but it goes well beyond that. Patience also means waiting and not forcing a situation to happen according to your preferences.  Having patience means staying emotionally steady when a person doesn’t do what you expect or a situation doesn’t happen as you expect.

Patience involves making a decision to not force a situation, to instead wait and let it happen — or not — as it will. Having patience and not insisting on your will requires faith as a way to not simply get through something but to instead know the Lord will direct your actions (Proverbs 16:9).

Patience involves a refusal to insist on your own way. It means letting others make mistakes because that’s the only way they’ll realize they’re mistakes and because you want the same to happen when you make mistakes. It means forgiving when a person doesn’t know they should be sorry or knows and simply isn’t sorry.

Patience toward people and circumstances often requires knowing what your emotions want and choosing to head in the opposite direction. It means employing flexibility to the utmost of your limits.

Don’t Force The Situation

Somewhere along the way, I learned to tell myself “Don’t force it” when patience evaded my grasp and anger and frustration took its place. This motto enforces patience and reminds me to wait even when my feelings want to push and pull and control.

“Don’t force it” provides a practice that receives reinforcement through remembering all the times I did the opposite and found myself overwhelmed and overloaded in getting what I wanted only to discover it was not what I needed or that it distanced me from those I loved.

“Don’t force it” is a determination that keeps me from getting ahead of God and discovering I left His presence behind for the benefits of His promises (Exodus 33). It’s a reminder to let Him be God and to follow His leading.

Psalm 37

Focus Determines Reality

Patience says you trust God to work in another’s heart and mind to their benefit and His glory (Romans 15:5). It says you trust Him to present opportunities as you actively wait in what you already know to do.

It means placing an inner stillness over your desire to control and to instead focus on His presence. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit we make room for as we deny the flesh (Galatians 5:22).

Patience exists as an attribute, a requirement really, of truly loving others (1 Corinthians 13:4). It’s a habit that flourishes in simplicity of living (James 5:7). It’s an aspect of the Lord’s character we must pursue as we focus on who He is, not just what He does.

Victory In The Struggle

Patience now exists with consistency in my life, now that I know the root cause isn’t a lack of patience or an abundance of anger but a control issue. Sure, patience needed to increase and anger needed to decrease (and sometimes they both still do), but I now realize neither of those could happen until my need to control others and situations diminished.

Until my focus turned away from my own efforts and instead fixed on the One who holds all control, my reality remained in the muck and mire of out-of-control emotions.

Knowing He has ultimate control over all aspects of life brings me peace. Knowing He gives wisdom and guidance in every moment of life produces staying confidence. And knowing His Spirit plants and cultivates patience within me allows me to focus on the victory within the struggle.

DISCUSSION: How have you struggled with patience? How have you found victory over it?

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

A Wise Men History Lesson

Note: This post coincides with the idea of Epiphany, though it wasn’t my focus when I wrote the post. If you’d like to know more about Epiphany, check out this article: What is Epiphany / Three Kings’ Day and should Christians celebrate it?

wisemen

Who were the wise men?

To understand the significance of the wise men’s role in the Christmas story, let’s go back to the time of Daniel. The Medes and the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC. The Persians were the dominant power, and the Medes were eventually integrated.

The Magi (wise men) were the hereditary priesthood of the Medes (knows as the Kurds today) and known for profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. They proved to be experts in interpreting dreams, which is why Darius made them the supreme priestly caste over the Persian Empire.

How did the wise men know about the Messiah?

Daniel eventually received the title of Rab-mag, or Chief of the Magi, because of his superior ability to interpret dreams other Magi could not. This led to his stay in the lion’s den (Daniel 1:18-20, Daniel 9:24-27, & Daniel 12).

As a result of this interaction, the Magi knew Daniel’s prophecy about the Messiah. Daniel’s survival in the lion’s den as well as his part in saving the Magi’s lives significantly impacted them too. They probably also knew about the Messiah through Balaam, one of their ancestors (Numbers 24:17).

The Jews and the Persians (including the Magi) eventually fell under Seleucid control. The Seleucids eventually fell to the Parthians. The Magi continued as the dominating ruling party through the Seleucid and Parthian Empire and also through Sasanian rule (224-651BC).

Why was Herod afraid of the wise men?

The Magi traveled 800-900 miles & originated from what is modern-day Iran. They arrived in Jerusalem probably with a large entourage. They were the wealthy, ruling class of the Parthians, after all. As a result, they would have traveled protected and in relative ease.

Their arrival frightened the whole city, not just Herod the Great. The people of Jerusalem likely thought the Parthians came to besiege them again. Herod’s and the people’s fears were justified since there many people (including Herod) were in Jerusalem when the Parthians invaded Roman Judea a few decades before. They basically kicked out the Romans for several years.

Though they took back Judea, the Roman Empire never completely defeated the Parthians. The two groups went back and forth between war and diplomacy from 53AD-217BC. In addition, the Parthians had a sophisticated culture of commerce, significant wealth, and some of their cities stood as the largest in the world.

The Romans and Herod feared the arrival of the Magi for more than just their bringing emphasis to this child called “king of the Jews”

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east cam to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” (Matthew 2:1-3)

Why should we care about the wise men?

The Magi grew in knowledge about the Messiah. Their interest began just before the silent years between the testaments and endured from one generation to the next. And they weren’t even Jewish.

We also can’t overlook the fact that the Magi looked for Jesus’ arrival for hundreds of years. They expected it and knew the signs when they saw them.

The Magi set an example of what seeking Christ truly means still for us today.

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”(Matthew 2:1-12)

How does the Magi’s drive to discover the Christ child change your perspective on what it means to seek Him?

Tinsel – Not Just for Decoration!

tinselCreating Memories

One of my boys’ favorite Christmas movies is “The Santa Clause” starring Tim Allen. Toward the end of the movie, some of the elves help Santa escape from jail using tinsel to cut the hinges off the cell door, and one of them says,

“Tinsel. Not just for decoration.”

My boys love this part of the movie. In fact, we quote it often this time of year mainly because of the overwhelming presence of tinsel in our house.

Growing up, my family always put tinsel on our tree as the final touch. When I got married, my husband protested against the tinsel because it got everywhere. Though I couldn’t argue with him, I also just couldn’t part with the tinsel.

Reasons for Tinsel

First, my tree simply looks naked without tinsel. Beyond that, this tradition produces such good memories that Christmas seems incomplete without it.

Tinsel also provides a year-round reminder of Christmas. My husband finds tinsel annoying not just because it gets everywhere, but also because we still find remnants of it in August. Just another way to experience Christmas joy year-round.

Finally, tinsel hides the ornaments I dislike. My husband has this one ornament he insists on placing front and center on our tree. I can’t stand the thing (Sorry Dallas Cowboy fans!). So, I hide it with tinsel. This good-natured fun creates some of the best Christmas memories.

The point?

There are two, actually. First, have fun and enjoy Christmas not just during the Christmas season but year round too. Second, don’t miss out on those small opportunities to create those memories. After all, it’s usually the small events and moments that add up and combine to make a significant impact on your life.

What fun Christmas traditions help bond your family and provide small opportunities that add up to make a difference year round?